Sex work, C-36 and what people ought to do

tl;dr –

Bill C-36 is terrible and will probably get people killed.  At best, it’s probably unconstitutional. At worst, it’s going to get people killed.  Go ask Premier Wynne to refer bill C-36 to the Court of Appeal to verify that it is indeed constitutional and doesn’t infringe on sex worker’s charter rights.

Stop complaining about shitty government and shitty laws.  Do something.

Fill in this webform or email her directly.  Put your real name and real mailing address and make this count.  If you’re looking for a template, you can use this.

The backstory

Bill C-36 was given royal assent last week – coincidentally, on my birthday.  Shitty birthday present Peter MacKay.  Shitty birthday present.

For those that follow me on Twitter, it’s no secret that I think the bill is terrible.

So some background for those that aren’t policy wonks.

In December 2013, sex workers won a charter of rights challenge against the federal government of Canada. Three provisions were struck down that were shown to cause harm to sex workers:

  • s. 210 (keeping or being found in a bawdy house),
  • s. 212(1)(j) (living on the avails of prostitution), and
  • s. 213(1)(c) (communicating in public for the purpose of prostitution)

those parts of the criminal code were found to violate section 7 of the Charter of Rights. That’s this bit for those whose memory of high school political science is fuzzy:

Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of the person and the
right not to be deprived thereof except in accordance with the principles of
fundamental justice.

So let’s first be totally clear, when people say that the old laws caused harm – it means the old laws helped to get people assaulted, raped or worse – killed.

In it’s judgement, the court was extremely clear:

The impugned laws negatively impact security of the person rights of prostitutes and thus engage s. 7 The proper standard of causation is a flexible “sufficient causal connection” standard, as correctly adopted by the application judge.  The prohibitions all heighten the risks the applicants face in prostitution — itself a legal activity.  They do not merely impose conditions on how prostitutes operate.  They go a critical step further, by imposing dangerous conditions on prostitution; they prevent people engaged in a risky — but legal — activity from taking steps to protect themselves from the risks.  That causal connection is not negated by the actions of third‑party johns and pimps, or prostitutes’ so‑called choice to engage in prostitution.  While some prostitutes may fit the description of persons who freely choose (or at one time chose) to engage in the risky economic activity of prostitution, many prostitutes have no meaningful choice but to do so.  Moreover, it makes no difference that the conduct of pimps and johns is the immediate source of the harms suffered by prostitutes.  The violence of a john does not diminish the role of the state in making a prostitute more vulnerable to that violence.

The Supreme Court of Canada gave parliament 12 months to enact new laws, or else sex work would become fully decriminalized.  That is to say – sex work would be treated like any other job.

Bill C-36 is the “Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act”. It’s the new law passed by the federal government.  This bill manages to take all the harms of the old laws, and make things dramatically worse.

Before I go on anymore, it’s time for a break.  This is how I hope you are responding to “worse laws than the ones that got people killed” :

So what do we know about sex work?  Quite a lot actually.

We know that sex workers aren’t the stereotype of a diseased person carrying HIV/AIDS.  That trope has been widely debunked with real research.

We know that from a health policy perspective, decriminalization leads to better health outcomes.  That’s UNAIDS.  The Lancet just this year published a massive body of research that supports decriminalization – purely on the health impact.  The BMJ published research this year that indicates that criminalization of clients negatively impacts the safety and health of sexworkers.

That’s the health policy side of this.

What do we know about trafficking?  Well – to the best of my knowledge, I’d say most data that shows there’s a wide spread sex trafficking problem is either intentionally misleading, or done by some of the worst researchers I’ve ever had to read.

If you’re to believe the numbers from the anti-trafficking groups and law enforcement, you’d have to believe that roughly 25-40% of all men in Ottawa between the ages of 18-60 see one drug addled sex trafficked woman every year.  That’s a pretty sad view of humanity.

It’s also pretty ridiculous.

You can go through the numbers yourself, but a sex worker has done the work for you – and compiled all the data over here.  Warning – it’s an escort site. I guess that means it’s NSFW depending on where you work.

Sometimes, the timing of things is just a little too suspicious.  Just as bill C-36 went to the Justice Committee this past summer, the obviously inflated numbers published by the CSEC which were normally found here disappeared.  That happened literally the day before the committees started.

What do legal bodies think?  The Canadian Bar Association :

“We believe the Bill potentially imperils prostitutes going forward by restricting their ability to protect themselves in their inherently risky, but legal activities,”

The most important voices of all – the ones that have the most skin in the game – sex workers themselves and sex work support organizations have been very clear, C-36 will kill people.

There’s more, but I think my point is pretty clear.

Ok, fine.  So now what?

I worry that our government shows an alarming level of contempt for people.  You can see it in bill C-2 which will make safe injection difficult to access.  You can see it in bill C-13 and privacy regulations.  You can see it in C-32, the Victim’s Bill of Rights.

So what now?

There’s been a call to get the Premier of Ontario to refer the bill to the Ontario Court of Appeals.

How this works – while parliament can pass bills, it’s up to the provinces to administer the law. The Courts of Justice act allows the Attorney General to refer questions to the Court of Appeal.  That court can render an opinion on the constitutionality of a law and that opinion is legally binding.
So here’s what you’re going to do Internet.  If you live in Ontario, you’re going to email the premier and ask for something small.  You’re going to ask her to refer bill C-36 to the Court of Appeal to check that it is constitutional and doesn’t infringe on charter rights.

You get the shitty government you deserve.  So demand a better one by demanding better laws.

Fill in this webform or email her directly.  Put your real name and real mailing address and make this count.


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